Free Love From Its Hallmark Captivity!

Paul’s discussion about love isn’t sentimental.  But what he says about love sounds a bit lofty, elevated, almost perfect.  And that’s odd because he’s talking to a congregation that was arguing about food, about worship, about, well, everything.  He stops in the middle of his effort to bring order into their anxiety and sense of chaos and writes a poem about love…

Free Love From Its Hallmark Captivity!

 

The text I’m reading is from the King James Version, not because I am a regular reader of it but because this translation has become more fixed in the experience of the community of faith than any other. Don’t try and follow it in your Bible – just listen.

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.  Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;  Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;  Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth:

but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.  And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

 

Paul places this phenomenal chapter right in the middle of a discussion on church order that begins in the eleventh and ends in the fifteenth chapters of 1st Corinthians.  He is speaking to things that most divided the Corinthian Christians, gifts of the spirit. Paul doesn’t say what such a gift is and he doesn’t give a complete list of them, yet he believes that they are essential to the building up of unity in the Body of Christ. Like every other good gift from God spiritual gifts are subject to abuse. Exalting one person’s ability to speak in tongues of ecstasy, for example, tends to de-emphasize what Paul considers the “higher” gifts.  But even in ranking the gifts late in the twelfth chapter he demonstrates how uneasy he is with so much focus on the gifts themselves. He is intent on showing the Corinthians and us the more “excellent way,” the way which ultimately leads to the harmonious function of the body of Christ. This “way” is the way of love. Learning to love each other, to bear with each other, to build up each other, to hang in there…that’s what forms the basis of life in Christ.

 

Paul’s breaks his discussion on love into three sections: 

First, in verses 1-3, he says that love gives meaning to life.  He stresses that even if we have everything our hearts desired whether that be every spiritual gift, or all knowledge or all wealth or even if we manifest unparalleled generosity, we gain and are nothing without love.  One person eloquently wrote: “Love is the oil that allows the engine of the heart to run; the glue that links people and hearts together; the sun that allows our lives to shine. It is the most cultivable of crops, the most worthy subject of our attention, the most excellent goal toward which to direct ourselves.”

 

In the next four verses Paul tells us how love shapes us,  how it defines our character. He doesn’t just leave us with a notion of romantic love.  He stresses what you might call the “nuts and bolts” or the “mechanics” of love.  How has love been patient for you? When did you witness or when were you the recipient of the kindness of another? When did you, out of love, curb your desire to boast or be “recognized” for something? How has love helped you continue to “believe all things?”

 

In verses 8-13 Paul stresses the permanence of love. A major concern of many people today is their “legacy”, that is, what they will leave to others. People have their names put on memorial structures, arboretums, even sports facilities because they don’t want their contributions to be forgotten. “Legacy” concerns guide so much of our actions.  You can ask our second term President about that.  Paul’s point here is that the greatest legacy you can leave is love. Somehow love survives all things.  That may be hard to embrace when ethnicity,  religion and ideology divide the world rather than serving as the impetus for collaboration.  Love, in the church, in our community and globally is not such a bad idea. Acts of love last. They really do.

 

Paul’s discussion about love isn’t sentimental.  But what he says about love sounds a bit lofty, elevated, almost perfect.  And that’s odd because he’s talking to a congregation that was arguing about food, about worship, about, well, everything.  He stops in the middle of his effort to bring order into their anxiety and sense of chaos and writes a poem about love, love described in idealistic terms.  He doesn’t describe love within the faith community the way I would.  I’d say things like: Love is hard; love is complicated and messy;  at times love is almost impossible.  But Paul is wiser than am I.  He tells us not what love is but what it is supposed to be.  He calls us to look above the conflict, anxiety and stress and imagine the beauty and simplicity of loving each other despite our differences.  And then, when our feet are planted squarely in the demands of living in community we have the ideal in mind as we choose to risk putting love into action. 

 

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.  Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;  Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;  Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth:

but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.  And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

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